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July 8, 2009

What are proper sentencing considerations for forty-year-old crimes?

This article, headlined " Elderly Man Appeals Sentence On Historic Sex Charges," present is an interesting sentencing story from New Zeland:

Neville Earnest Hearling, then 76, from Wanganui, was sentenced in March to three years and three months in prison.  He was convicted of performing indecent acts on several boys, aged between nine and 15, when he was a softball and rugby league coach in the 1960s and 1970s.

When interviewed for a pre-sentence report Hearling claimed he could not be held responsible for his actions as he had a mental illness, prosecutor Nick Webby said.  "I may have offended but I am not taking full responsibility for it because of my illness," Hearling told a probation officer.

In the Court of Appeal today defence counsel Jonathan Wiles said the starting point for the sentence was too high.  Justice Forrest Miller said there had been no evidence provided that Hearling did in fact suffer from mental illness.

Mr Wiles then produced a doctor's report in which Hearling was diagnosed with depression and possible early signs of dementia.... Mr Wiles then drew attention to Hearling's age and described him as, "a frail old man" who would struggle in jail.

Crown prosecutor Megan Inwood told the court Hearling had already received a "generous" discount of nearly 50 percent on his sentence for those reasons plus his guilty plea.

Justice Randerson said it was a difficult case to consider as if the victims had complained sooner, Hearling would not have enjoyed such a discount for his age.  Justice Ellen France said Hearling had also benefited from more lenient sentencing guidelines introduced after his offending. The court reserved its decision.

This report makes unclear whether the defendant here claims that he had a mental illness at the time of his crimes or just now as he finally is to pay for his crimes.  Whatever the particulars, it is hard to disagree with the sentiment of the Justice who called this a "difficult case" because so many decades elapsed between the time of the crime and the time of sentencing.

July 8, 2009 at 09:30 AM | Permalink

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